Adapted from the writings of Joseph Parker, D.D
I was dumb, I opened not my mouth; because thou didst it.
THIS is not the only verse in the text in which the word “dumb” occurs…
The psalmist says in the second verse, “I was dumb with silence” –dumb with dumbness– “while the wicked is before me.” There are some men before whom you cannot speak; you are conscious that you are wasting yourselves in speaking in their dull hearing.
“My heart was hot within me, while I was musing the fire burned; then spake I with my tongue.” Dumbness and speech are two aspects of the same experience. Let us tarry awhile with this poor soul; he will speak music. We must let him go at his own pace. We cannot remake the man; we must accept him as God has made him.
“I was dumb, I opened not my mouth; because thou didst it.” “I was not an atheist; do not mistake me, I was only dumb. Once I shouted with the loudest, once my voice could be heard a field off; but in the presence of certain experiences, natural calamities, and bereavements, and down thrusts of many kinds, I gave up my shouting and my high glee; and I was dumb because I saw in all the catastrophes the doing of God.”
Do not suppose that a man is an atheist because he took no part in our hymn; the poor man’s heart was too full for singing. He was glad that other people should sing, it did him good to hear the noise of singing, though it were afar off; but he could take no part in the music, his soul was choked. There is a moral suffocation,there is a spiritual asphyxia. Yet those who suffer from such voicelessness are not necessarily atheists. The man who sits next you and sings loud tones may be an atheist; I pray God he is not. But we cannot judge either from the one circumstance or from the other. The loud singer may be an utter disbeliever, and the dumb worshipper may feel the nearness of God and the warmth of heaven’s spring breezes on his faded cheeks. Every man must be his own judge.
“I was dumb . . . because Thou didst it.” I was not convinced that the providence was gracious. Holy men called upon me, told me that I ought to be full of gladness, at least to have the satisfaction of a most profound and calm peace; but their notes did not affect me, their tones did not get beyond the ears of my body: they did not understand my calamity, they had never seen tears so salt or felt brine so bitter; I knew it from the way they spoke; they had been wiser had they held their tongues. I was not convinced that the providence was gracious; it was too overwhelming; it took away everything I had; or, if there was anything left, it was so affected by what had been taken away that it represented a double emptiness, a most horrible vacuum. How could it be otherwise? He was gone who was the soul of the house; she was dead who made the house; the little one who was the angel of the house had gone away with the birds of paradise. It was our home’s undoing. Oh the ruin! Yet we are dumb.
A man is not always able to be his very best self; sometimes he is quite unmanned. God can unmake men, as well as make them. He not only makes Adam, he bruises him with a severe blow, and crushes the work of his own hands under a heavy heel. Do not expect a man to be fluent when he is choking; do not say, where is your faith now? It may be deepening, not exhibiting ; it may be more getting hold of the soul, and be less of a discipline in the public eye.
Yet –so the psalmist continues with thrilling paraphrase –yet though I could not accept the providence, I could trust the Creator; I look at the words I have written, and I approve and reaffirm them…
“I was dumb . . . because Thou didst it.”
There is the personality of God; there is immediate intervention, interposition, and sovereign authority and grace of the living God. John Newton wrote to some poor woman who had lost all by fire,and he wrote to congratulate her because the more property she had lost the more real treasure she had secured. God does make wondrous compensations. Some compensations are long and wearily delayed. The soul says, “When will He come? When shall the rising of the sun be? Watchman, what of the night?”
It is possible not to see the graciousness of the particular providence, and yet to revel in the confidence of God’s gracious sovereignty. He will make it plain. When ? I cannot tell. How ? No man knows. We have to stand back,we have to be dumb a while, that we may sing the better afterwards. God is resting the throat of the soul. But what shouts and joys and anthems may come on the third day none can tell. It is a poor, wearing life, broken in upon now and again and once more by almost storms of music. Take life as a whole; take experience in the mass. Personally I have been obliged to do this, and I am surprised with an utter wonder at the visibleness of God in my own little worthless life.
Though I am dumb, I do not sing, I have no desire to sing; singing is miles off” yea, years off, and wide continents. Still, there are God’s footprints along the path of your life, each a bed of flowers, each a silent song.
Better be sincere in silence than hypocritical in praise; better be sincere in unbelief than hypocritical in a nominal and empty faith. I would not turn away any fellow soul from the Lord’s table because he had no song, because he had hung his harp upon the willow, because he was almost an infidel; I would put him among the psalmists and minstrels of an earlier time, I would mate him with one who says, “My feet had almost slipped and gone.” Are we to turn away such men from the Lord’s table or from the ordinances of grace?” Ye that are strong ought to bear the infirmities of the weak,” and we who are mighty ought to stand up whilst the weary sit down. There is a time then, for dumbness, for utterest silence, for a silence that would suggest to undiscerning minds want of faith and want of love.
Sometimes we are most loving when we are most silent; sometimes we are most sympathetic when we are most afflicted. Let us therefore take heed how we distribute our judgments, lest we smite the broken in heart and discourage those whose afflictions are almost filling the cup to overflowing. It takes a steady hand to hold without loss some full cups; one Sufferer let the cup overflow in Gethsemane.
Is it to be dumbness for ever ?
Read Isaiah 35:6, “The tongue of the dumb shall sing.” Then it is not all over; God knows when we are dumb, why we are dumb, and how long it will suffice His wisdom for us to remain dumb. We need promises; it is marvelous that the Bible contains just what we need most. Let us thank God for the cheerful notes of the Bible. It does us good to hear now and then a great solemn voice saying, “Comfort ye, comfort ye My people!” telling them about forgiven sins and iniquities forgotten.
We want all these grand singers, and in the stormy music we catch a whisper spoken to the individual soul alone, saying,”The tied tongue shall be unloosed, the tongue of the dumb shall sing; there shall be another voice added to all this tempest of praise.”We are saved by hope, we are kept alive by promises; we hold the promises of God, not that we may sleep upon them, but that they may stimulate us to cleanse ourselves and strive after holiness. “Having, therefore, dearly beloved, these promises, let us _________” ” then comes discipline, strife, hope, confidence, triumph.
Is there anything more about the possible ending of dumbness and the bringing forth of a hymn or psalm out of painful silence? Read Ezekiel 24:27: “Thou shalt speak and be no more dumb.” Then dumbness is not for ever; this is not a final speechlessness or songlessness. This is only an intermediate, this is the education of the passing day. Who knows but that out of such silence there may come a sweeter note? Who does not know that there has come into his preaching a subtler music because of the sorrow?
God teaches in manifold ways. Perhaps once you were rough, controversial, defiant in preaching; you were distinguished by very great vigor; but lately has there not been another tone, a sweeter tone, a deeper note, a longer note over which we have lingered, because our love asks for time to tell all its tale of gratitude and praise? Who made the hand softer? The God who gave you the sorrow gave the hand that appreciation,that sense of sympathy. How is it that the Bible is a new book? Because of the sorrow. Whilst you were flourishing and almost kicking because of plenteousness and riotousness of strength, you could not read all the Bible; but it took you seven days and seven nights in the darkest school that God has to qualify you to read the twenty-third Psalm. You could always gabble it; not till now could you read it.
Then is there nothing for us to do with regard to the dumb? Cannot we help a little? Is there any hint in the Scriptures as to our duty in relation to the dumb? What is my little text? It is Proverbs 31:8-9. Open thy mouth for the dumb in the cause of all such as are appointed to destruction. Open thy mouth, judge righteously, and plead the cause of the poor and needy.
We could all do this…
…we could speak for the man who cannot speak for himself. Do you say you are not a speaker? If you say so you do yourself injustice; you are a speaker, and you can be graciously eloquent if you get a good grip of your case.
Look at the little child that does not know what it wants, and interpret that wonder-lighted face. Look at the poor creature who is a creature of real necessity and cannot speak about it. Be a tongue to such dumbness, interpret the meaning of that eloquent silence. Do you know when you are most eloquent? You are most eloquent when you are most earnest. Everybody can be eloquent when a certain end is desired and is determined upon. Determination is heat ; insistence on some policy for the good of others is fervor, and fervor is the fire of eloquence. No man can be eloquent in mere verbiage; he can use eloquent language, but in the using of it he is abusing it. The most eloquent sentences I have ever heard have been from the lips of sorrow; the sentences have been spoken so quietly that I have had to incline mine ear and listen to the panting breath. Have you ever spoken a word for the dumb? The dumb would thank you; the dumb know when their feelings are interpreted.
Even dumbness then is education. You will have your period of dumbness, but there are people who can sing, let them do it, and let us all beware of irreligious fluency.